Transparency News 10/28/19



October 28, 2019


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state & local news stories


"For 18 months, Friends of the library have waited for the Virginia Supreme Court to weigh in on their allegation that the Smyth County Board of Supervisors and County Administrator Michael Carter violated the commonwealth’s sunshine law."

No unclaimed money has ever been given to the State Literary Fund, at least in the past five years, according to the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office’s own records. On Your Side Investigator, Diane Walker filed a Freedom of Information Act request after the sheriff confiscated more than a grand from a private citizen who found the money in a Home Depot parking lot. The Hanover Sheriff’s Office says they give the money to the state after three years if they can’t find the rightful owner. Documents show deputies have $2,724.42 sitting in the evidence room. That amount is derived from five different cases of lost and found money now in the sheriff’s custody. Looking at records dating back until 2014 to see if any money recently made it to the State Literary Fund, there are no reports of unclaimed cash coming into the sheriff’s office before 2018. So, that means the nearly $3,000 in the sheriff’s possession now will stay there through at least 2021 since Hanover keeps the money three years before giving it to the state if no one claims it.

For 18 months, Friends of the library have waited for the Virginia Supreme Court to weigh in on their allegation that the Smyth County Board of Supervisors and County Administrator Michael Carter violated the commonwealth’s sunshine law when they discussed dissolving the Smyth-Bland Regional Library behind closed doors. However, the court has been unable to move forward with the case, missing a big piece of the puzzle – the county’s response to the Friends’ appeal. Last week, Marion attorney Paul Morrison II, who represents Beverly Cole, both individually and as president on behalf of the non-profit Friends of the Smyth-Bland Regional Library, filed a motion asking the court to either compel the county to produce that response or decide the case without it.

The federal judge overseeing a gang conspiracy trial now underway in Norfolk ordered before the trial began that the jurors’ names not be released to the public. Or to the defendants. U.S. District Judge Mark S. Davis ruled that such “juror anonymity” is necessary to ensure that the jury is protected from harm. Jurors are being referred to in the courtroom throughout the month-long trial by number rather than by name.
Daily Press

Starting in January, the Charlottesville Police Department will post all of its policies and general orders to the city’s website. Mayor Nikuyah Walker announced the initiative to publish the information by January in a Facebook post this week. The announcement came a few days after residents raised concern during Monday’s City Council meeting that a proposed Police Civilian Review Board should be able to review all policies.
The Daily Progress

The Warren Coun ty Board of Supervisors during a special Friday meeting voted to have lawyers from Litten & Sipe LP - the law firm serving as county attorney - to represent them in court proceedings regarding a recently filed petition calling for their removal from office.
The Northern Virginia Daily

Hopewell Mayor Jasmine E. Gore claims that city administration and one of her colleagues on City Council knew about criminal charges filed against a recently hired council assistant, but did not share that information with her or other councilors. Patrice Shelton is facing several felony charges in Buckingham County stemming back to September 2018 — about a year before council hired her — that involve delivery of drugs to a prisoner and bribery of a public official. County court records indicate she was indicted by a grand jury on the charges on Sept. 10 of this year and is scheduled for her next court hearing Oct. 30 in Buckingham.
The Progress-Index


stories of national interest

President Trump made a high-profile, short-lived typo this past weekend when he referred to Defense Secretary Mark Esper as "Mark Esperanto" in a tweet that was deleted after an hour. Trump has made unprecedented use of Twitter from the Oval Office and regularly uses it to share thoughts and announcements on politics and diplomacy. For many experts, his penchant for deletion is cause for concern: Under the 1978 Presidential Records Act, Trump's electronic communications are considered public property, and living history. Access to complete presidential records makes fuller historical research and scholarship possible. For instance, new work on the early years of the Cold War is only coming out now that certain documents and parts of the policy record are declassified, Dan Mahaffee, senior vice president and director of policy at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, said.

The Delaware Department of Justice says Wilmington City Council violated the Freedom of Information Act when barring outspoken city resident Dion Wilson from speaking during a public comment period last month.  City Council President Hanifa Shabazz said Wilson was not allowed to speak because he had used profanity during the previous meeting. Shabazz also had Wilson arrested earlier this month on charges of harassment and disorderly conduct— a move criticized by some council members and free speech advocates.  Deputy Attorney General Dorey Cole decided FOIA’s open meeting requirements apply to the public comment period. She said City Council can remove citizens who are “willfully and seriously disruptive” to a meeting — but that Council’s preemptive decision to bar Wilson from speaking was not justified. 
Delaware Public Media

Grosse Pointe Woods' (Michigan) city government has left some citizens outraged after it provided names, emails and addresses of thousands of its residents to a politician running for reelection.  The city handed over the information on about 6,500 residents to incumbent City Council member Richard Shetler days after Shetler filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the city clerk in August seeking resident contact information from water bill and parks and recreation lists.  Upon receiving the information, Shetler email-blasted constituents, promoting his reelection campaign. 
Detroit Free Press

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a coalition of 32 media organizations are supporting Spectrum News NY1’s request of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division, First Department, to reverse a trial court order that would require a hearing to assess whether redacting police body camera footage would be “unreasonably difficult.” The January order of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, permits the parties to conduct a hearing to determine whether making redactions to body camera footage would be “unreasonably difficult,” as the NYPD claims. The additional hearing would further delay production of any records NY1 requested under New York’s Freedom of Information Law.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

The Interior Department has removed heavily criticized language from the final version of its public records rule that some worried would give officials too much leniency in withholding documents. The final iteration of the department’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regulation issued Friday removes several proposed language changes that government watchdog groups argued would place an unlawful burden on public records seekers and offered the agency broader authority to reject requests that didn’t fit the more narrow request format. For instance, a section of the finalized rule no longer lists the additional specification to “reasonably describe” the records sought: “identify the discrete, identifiable agency activity, operation, or program in which you are interested.”
The Hill

Ruth Van Mark was announced as Wyoming's first public records ombudsman. In the position, she will settle disputes over records requests, determine the scope of what can be redacted in requests and coordinate with state agencies to make the process for submitting requests more straightforward. “The ombudsman’s role provides the citizens of Wyoming who are seeking public information an opportunity to get their questions answered without having to go to court if, in fact, they can’t work it out with the agency,” Van Mark said. The position was created with the passage of Senate File 57 in the spring. Cassie Craven, a lobbyist with the Wyoming Liberty Group, said there was a lot of testimony last session about records disputes between state agencies and citizens that had gone wrong in court.
Wyoming Tribune Eagle


quote_2.jpg"Access to complete presidential records makes fuller historical research and scholarship possible. For instance, new work on the early years of the Cold War is only coming out now."